The West African republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is trying to sell cargo valued at USD 7,5 million which they wrongfully confiscated from Swedish company Stena Oil. This is the latest attempt by the government in São Tomé to profit on their illegal confiscation earlier this year of the ships Marida Melissa and Duzgit Integrity, chartered by Stena Oil.
A tanker ship from a buyer of the cargo was approaching São Tomé a few days ago, but turned around when the owner of the tanker ship got the whole picture of the situation.
In the early morning of Friday October 11 São Tomé armed forces boarded the Maltese tanker M/T Duzgit Integrity by force. The soldiers violently rounded up the crew and locked up all personnel in their quarters in an operation resembling an act of piracy. They confiscated all telephones and effectively cut all communications to and from the ship as well as any movement. Three crew members were forced at gunpoint to enter the engine room and prepare the ship to discharge her cargo. Since Sunday we have not been able to communicate with the ship.
Stena Oil and the ship owner strongly protested this highly irregular operation but São Tomé have refused to communicate.
The two oil tankers have been wrongfully detained by São Tomé for nearly eight months. Following international pressure the two captains were recently released from prison, having received a presidential pardon. They are now repatriated to their home countries. One of the tankers, without cargo, was released last Friday but the one with cargo, the Maltese tanker M/T Duzgit Integrity, is still kept by Sao Tomé. High ranking São Tomé government officials have apparently, despite an on going legal appeal, sought to sell the cargo to international interests. Fortunately their illicit actions have so far failed and the cargo valued at USD 7,5 million remains on board for now.
The appeal is still being handled by the judicial system in São Tomé but as we have learnt the government seems to have an important role in the decision making. Stena Oil have never been served or notified of the process where the cargo was confiscated. Neither have Stena Oil been sentenced in the summary court hearing that took place in March.
During the day on Friday October 11 we received information that the Panama flag tanker M/T Anuket Emerald, chartered by the company Monjasa A/S, was approaching the island and was in preparation to load the cargo from our tanker. Fortunately the owner of M/T Anuket Emerald refused to commence the loading operation when they learnt that M/T Duzgit Integrity was lacking proper certificates to conduct oil transfers. Furthermore there was no captain onboard responsible for the cargo operation making the operation unsafe and in violation of international regulations. They were also informed that the tanker was not under command of the crew but by São Tomé soldiers not trained in proper tanker management. The São Tomé coast guard commanding officer in charge actually purported to send messages in the name of the captain to lure the M/T Anuket Emerald to come alongside but failed in these attempts.
The São Tomé government are in the process of creating an international incident by this illegal behaviour which is in violation of international law and custom. Stena Oil has informed the government of Malta as well as the Swedish government and the European Union of the actions taken by São Tomé.
The São Tomé government is well informed that the tanker M/T Duzgit Integrity is in acute need of a dry docking to renew her certificates and make necessary repairs to her manoeuvring system among other highly critical issues.
The tanker is after eight months of illegal detention in no condition to conduct any cargo operations. Furthermore São Tomé has forbidden the owner to employ a captain onboard. Due to São Tomé's behaviour this tanker is void of all insurance, including oil pollution. A grounding or leakage could result in environmental damages that would cost many hundred million dollars to clean up and take a very long time for the ecology to recover from.
Stena Oil has urged the São Tomé government to take proper action and without further delay release this ship from her illegal detention. So far this illegal detention has cost Stena Oil and the ship owners more than six million dollars. Stena Oil will pursue São Tomé in every way available and will demand compensation for losses in international courts.
Timeline: Eight months of illegal detention
March 15 The ships boarded and forced to port by the coast guard of São Tomé.
March 22 First court hearing
March 29 The captains sentenced to three years of imprisonment. Charged with smuggling in a show trial.
March 15 - October 10 Negotiations to make Sao Tomé release the captains, the ships and the cargo.
September 26 Following international pressure, the captains pardoned by the President of São Tomé on "humanitarian grounds".
October 11 One of the ships, Marida Melissa, released from detention.
October 11 A tanker chartered by Danish company Monjasa approaches São Tomé. Turns around after pressure from Stena Oil on the owner of the tanker.